How Do You Deal With Mixed Messages? Pt 2
In this second post on the topic of mixed messages, I want to present you with a few more examples, and then talk about what can be done.
Mixed messages get sent in the way we put words together, too. “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” George W. Bush, January 11 2000. And when our words don’t match our bodies, that’s a mixed message too! So is smiling while expressing sympathy, or like W.’s dad, George H.W. Bush used to do, when he would point at the voters and say ‘I’ and point at himself and say ‘You.’ I’ve worked with people whose parents gave them mixed messages, like “You never call, I can’t talk.” “You never visit, but I’m ashamed of how you look.”
Mixed messages are confusing, and when people are confused and things don’t get better, they become cynical, polarized and angry, or they collapse into a state of silence and helplessness. Control freaks, sexual predators and perpetrators of domestic violence frequently use mixed messages, either consciously, or unconsciously (because they learned the behavior pattern from the authority figures in their own lives) as a way of controlling others. In fact, there are several hypnotic techniques that use mixed messages to break down a person’s ability to think and take them into a state of confusion. But mixed messages have no effect if you notice them and recognize them for what they are. And even if you fail to notice them in time, you can notice the confused state they trigger as a an early warning sign that someone may be messing with your head.
You know the saying… A house divided against itself cannot stand. Said another way, an organization divided against itself, a nation divided against itself, (and yes, even an individual divided against his or her self…like the person who loves his family and spends no time with them) cannot stand itself, because mixed messages give rise to an ever increasing number of negative and difficult behaviors as people try to navigate the confused situation.
When positive change is the promise, but everything actually remains the same or gets worse, well, it’s like what Washington Irving once wrote: “There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, it is a comfort to change one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” ~ Washington Irving
If you work for a mission driven organization, chances are great that you have attracted many extraordinary people who want to be part of that mission. But if you keep trying flavor of the month approaches to dealing with changing conditions in the larger community or world, you will inevitably become a breeding ground for cynicism.
The antidote to mixed messages is congruence, where what you say is consistent with what you do, and what you do is consistent with what you say. There’s a word in mathematics for this matching up, or agreement, among parts. It’s congruence. For example, when two triangles have the same size and shape, they are considered congruent.
But in human math, when what we do this week is in agreement with what we did last week, then this week’s actions are congruent with last weeks. When our habits match our values, and our words match our deeds, that is congruence. Congruence is personal power.
Congruence is inherent in effective leaders. We don’t get confused in the presence of it, we get inspired. We can listen to a congruent person, and what we hear matches what we see when we watch them.
And it is with congruence that we can make a difference in our world. Where do we start? A good beginning is paying attention to the messages that people are getting. When we detect mixed messages, or incongruence, we can call attention to them quickly. This prevents that cognitive dissonance that sends people’s minds running. This allows people to focus forward. To take bold steps. To work together.
There’s just no getting around this, though some would have you think we can. Mixed messages do get sent, they do cause damage, and they do have lingering effects. To hold the focus in this world, you’ve got to heed the warnings and clear away the mess. At least once in a while, ask yourself, and ask the people around you, (like I am asking you right now!) what mixed messages are getting sent that you detect? What signs of cynicism and confusion are evident around you? What evidence of congruence do you detect? What is the effect of it on you? Confusion or respect?
Your respectful comments are welcome!
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.